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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Cancels Summit with North Korea's Kim Jong-un. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 24, 2018 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:34:01] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The other big breaking news story today is in our world lead. The summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is off at least for now. Upset about recent North Korean comments threatening nuclear war with the United States and calling Vice President Pence a, quote, political dummy, President Trump wrote to Kim Jong-un earlier today and scotched the June 12th Singapore summit, while allowing that it is possible the summit still might possibly happen.

President Trump touted the military might of the United States in the letter, threatening if things don't go well, the U.S. is, quote, more ready than ever before.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny joins us from the White House for us right now.

And, Jeff, we're now learning from a senior U.S. official that the U.S. delegation in Singapore was stood up last week by their North Korean counterparts?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jake, that is right. I just came from a briefing here at the White House and a senior White House official walking through what he called a trail of broken promises in recent days about this. He said, one, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would not get the phone calls responded to by his counterparts there and was also talking about how the delegation was stood up in Singapore to set up the meeting there.

Now, all of this is coming as the president left open the door to the possibility of that summit still happening but, Jake, this senior White House official closed the door, saying June 12th is basically ten minutes away.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe that this is a tremendous setback for North Korea and, indeed, a setback for the world.

ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump calling off landmark nuclear talks with Kim Jong-un today, blaming the diplomatic collapse on North Korea's hostility toward the U.S.

TRUMP: If and when Kim Jong-un decides to engage in constructive dialogue and actions, I am waiting.

ZELENY: The president delivering the news in a one-page letter to Kim, citing tremendous anger and open hostility. The diplomatic words of disappointment were followed by a blunt warning. You talk your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to god they will never have to be used.

At the White House, the president expressing regret about cancelling the summit, 20 days before the leaders were set to meet in Singapore.

TRUMP: Hopefully, everything's going to work out well with North Korea. And a lot of things can happen, including the fact that perhaps and would wait, it's possible that the existing summit could take place or a summit at some later date.

ZELENY: Mr. Trump still clearly trying to keep alive the prospect of being the first U.S. president to sit down with the North Korean leader. But in recent weeks, the spectacle of the summit seemed to take priority over substance, which worried many U.S. officials.

Never resolved were questions about the regime's commitment to abandoning its nuclear program. Still, the president spoke in measured tones, keeping the diplomatic door open rather than returning to his rollercoaster of red hot rhetoric on North Korea, starting nine months ago with this.

TRUMP: They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.

ZELENY: And then later belittling Kim during a speech at the United Nations.

TRUMP: Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.

ZELENY: But as the summit loomed, the president talked openly about winning a Nobel Prize.

TRUMP: Everything think so, but I would never say it.

ZELENY: Showering Kim with praise after releasing three American prisoners.

TRUMP: I clearly think he wants to do something and bring our country into the real world.

ZELENY: Yet, it became clear today that Mr. Trump may not understand Kim or his motives.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who twice visited North Korea to broker the talks said the counterparts have fallen silent in recent days. He voiced uncertainty about what comes next.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Yes. In some ways, it's situation normal. The pressure campaign continues.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Jake, also, learning a little bit more information about that letter the president sent, that senior White House official who's briefing us earlier said the president has dictated every word of that letter. At least that's what this official saying.

One other point, also, the reason others were surprised by this, particularly allies in the region is that the U.S. called them after that letter was sent and this is why apparently, the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was testifying on Capitol Hill this morning, they wanted to get that letter out first and they also wanted this news to hold, so they didn't share it with South Korea or others until after they made it public -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us.

CNN's Ivan Watson is in Seoul, South Korea, for us.

And, Ivan, did the South Koreans have any inkling that the decision to cancel the summit was coming before it was officially announced?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's certainly didn't look like it, Jake. The president here, Moon Jae-in, he had to convene an emergency meeting of his national security council shortly before midnight here, in the hour after the news of the letter broke. And then shortly after that issued this statement, a statement expressing regret and saying it was unfortunate that the summit in Singapore had been called off.

Going on to write, quote: it is difficult to solve sensitive and difficult diplomatic problems with the current way of communication and urging all parties to improve their method of communication and recall that Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president, had just been in the White House on Tuesday meeting with President Trump. These two allies urging President Trump to please go ahead with the meeting with Kim Jong-un in Singapore on June 12th, saying -- lavishing praise on him, saying that he could be a man of history, a man of the moment, bringing peace to the Korean peninsula.

But the South Koreans have been having own problems with the North Koreans ever since Pyongyang cut off talks with them last week, Jake.

[16:40:04] So they're having a rough time with Pyongyang right now, too -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Ivan Watson in Seoul, South Korea, for us, thank you so much.

CNN's Will Ripley is in North Korea for CNN right now. One of just a handful of Western journalists who attended the apparent destruction of a nuclear test site. Will Ripley is also the one who broke the news to North Korean officials that President Trump had officially pulled out of the summit.

Take a listen to Will describing how that all went down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): We were sitting around the table and I got the phone call and read out the letter from President Trump and I can tell you there was just a real sense of shock amongst the people that I was sitting with, the North Korean officials. They didn't give any official comment, but immediately, they got up and left and are now relaying the news up to the top.

And imagine how they're feeling at this moment given the fact that they just blew up nuclear site today as a sign they say of their willingness to denuclearize and to make a point as you said ahead of the summit on June 12th that scheduled with President Trump that until literally minutes ago, they thought was still going to happen.

Being inside this country just hours after they've blown up the nuclear site and learning of this, it was a very awkward and uncomfortable moment and we will have to see what happens in the coming hours and days on the ground here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That's Will Ripley in North Korea.

The big now, of course, is this a negotiating tactic by President Trump, one that might actually work? Next, we're going to talk to a man who's negotiated directly with North Korean officials. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And we're back with the "WORLD LEAD." President Trump canceling the upcoming summit with North Korea but leaving open the possibility of a future face-to-face meeting with Kim Jong-un. Joining us now is former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson. He has previously conducted high-level talks with North Korea. He was also the former Governor of New Mexico. Governor, thanks for joining us as always. We appreciate it. What's your reaction to President Trump canceling the meeting?

BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Well a big disappointment. It's going to be a setback for the peace process it's going to increase tensions in the Korean Peninsula short term. I think the North Koreans overplayed their hand. I mean, this is how they always act, Jake. I've negotiated with them. Bluster, they threaten, they insult people, they should have kept their act together because what they've always wanted is a summit with a President United States. And the President similarly I think has used as negotiating tactic walk away if you don't get your way. But I think both sides had unrealistic expectations of what was going to come forth, the end game for this summit. So maybe it's a blessing in disguise.

TAPPER: Do you fear now that North Korea will ramp up its missile and nuclear tests because of the cancellation?

RICHARDSON: Well I fear that. You know, they always overreact. Today they destroyed some of their nuclear facilities, you know, they're going to say that they release three American prisoners, that it's OK to have military drills with South Korea, and then they're saying well what have you done the U.S. to lessen tensions. This is how they think. They don't think like we do. I think short term they may do something provocative, not serious provocative that would get a response from the United States or South Korea, but this is not good.

But I think long term this may be better because the U.S. does not have consistent message. They should let Secretary of State Pompeo speak for the U.S. because you had the Vice President, you had National Security Adviser talking about Libya, the response. Kim Jong-un is not going to like that because Gaddafi ended up dead after he gave up his nuclear weapons. So I think the administration will use this time hopefully to prepare to be realistic about denuclearization. North Korea was not going to denuclearize. They might have curbed their weapons, put a freeze on them on missiles, but it's still worth to pursue this summit from the top to the bottom as the two presidents were doing. That would be my suggestion.

TAPPER: Before all the talk of a summit, it seemed that the United States and North Korea were headed towards a conflict of some sort. One hoped that it wouldn't come to that but it but there was -- it seemed very belligerent and very bellicose. Are you afraid that if North Korea does something provocative that President Trump might respond in kind and set the two countries back on an ugly path?

RICHARDSON: Well I worry about that because a lot of his advisers have talked about a bloody nose for North Korea, pre-emptive military strike. That's not going to work. And especially the biggest casualty is South Korea. The South Korean President is wounded politically with the cancellation of the summit. He worked so hard to make this happen. But yes, I worry about -- you know, the president is very impulsive. I worry about his next tweet. I worry that we weren't prepared for this summit adequately with a consistent strategy. So maybe if the summit is put off and I think cooler heads will prevail on both sides, they need to, then maybe late in the year a viable summit might take place but lower the expectations of what can be achieved. But look I've been involved in this issue for many years, if nothing has worked from the bottom to the top, the two presidents meeting, I gave the President credit for accepting the summit but I kept worrying that we had too many messengers, not a consistent strategy, and unrealistic expectations. And then North Koreans, this is how they always act, that they bluster, they threaten, they insult, they play games and not scheduling logistical meetings, they always do that. That's their standard modus operandi.

[16:50:38] TAPPER: All right, Governor Bill Richardson, thank you so much for your time and for coming and joining us today. Coming up next, is Donald Trump ripping a page out of Donald Trump's playbook? But first, it was a year that changed everything.

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(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: We're back in continuing the conversation with my political panel on this scrapped Singapore summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Kirsten, the President, and his allies were promoting this in a really big way, big leap as the President might say. There was a talk of a Nobel Peace Prize, the White House released a commemorative coin which by the way is now discounted at the White House gift shop with a note that "if summit does not occur you can request a refund." As Bill Richardson, the former U.N. Ambassador points out, this behavior by North Korea is pretty standard. What happened?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, I think it's a good reminder first to not give undue credit to Donald Trump before it's due because we were hearing a lot about how he had secured peace you know, with North Korea and now it looks like there's not even going to be a meeting. But I'd say anybody who's even just a casual observer of international affairs would know that invoking Libya with you know any country frankly, that you're trying to get to denuclearize is just a non-starter. It's very incendiary frankly because it just harkens back to the exact reason that they feel like they shouldn't give up their weapons which is Gaddafi probably would still be alive today if he hadn't given up his weapons. And so for -- to have you know, Bolton and then secretary -- Vice President Pence who repeatedly invoking this Libya model was so obviously provocative. So I think it was you know, pretty predictable. And then the other thing is I think Trump after he -- after he had agreed to do this probably started to realize because there was so much coverage about it that they hadn't laid the groundwork for a meeting and that they weren't really ready to denuclearize. They hadn't done the legwork that's typically done before the President of the United States sits down with someone like North Korea.

TAPPER: And Bill, as part of President Trump's book Art of the Deal, that's maybe relevant here, "the worst thing you can possibly do in a deal is seem desperate to make it. That makes the other guys smell blood and then you're dead." Do you think the president is taking the right step here by walking away?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I mean it's hard to judge from the outside. Yes, I think no summit is better than a summit in which we give away, important equities that we care about in terms of containing North Korea and not walking away from our own allies. I just think in general, I don't know that much harm is done by all this. At the end of the day, I hope not but I think -- I was talking with a friend yesterday who had just met with senior Japanese diplomats who are very polite on the surface obviously, and they're working very hard to have a good relationship with this administration but they just -- you know, you need to be reliable, predictable, brief them on different steps that are happening. These alliances are hold it together for now because people want to be friends of ours. They want us to stay in the region and be and be as reliable as possible. But at some point, Japan, South Korea, and a heck of a lot of other nations around the world could look up and say, who knows what these guys are doing, but we've got to take care of ourselves. And then you are looking at a world of nuclear proliferation and of alliance is falling apart that have served us awfully well the alliance's for a long, long time.

TAPPER: All right, Bill Kristol and Kirsten Powers, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. You can follow me on Facebook and on Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. A reminder, you can pick up my new novel the Hellfire Club at amazon.com or your local bookstore. It's entering its fourth week on the New York Times bestseller list. That's it for THE LEAD. I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer, he's in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, summit collapse. President Trump suddenly pulls the plug on a planned summit with Kim Jong-un warning that the U.S. Military is ready if North Korea does anything foolish.